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If you want to get healthy and stay healthy, you might want to invest in a pedometer. A new study suggests that tracking our steps every day could make us more active for up to 3–4 years later.

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Research suggests that the exercise benefits of pedometers could last for 3–4 years.

The study, which was recently published in the journal PLOS Medicine, was conducted by researchers from Brunel University London and St George's, University of London, both of which are in the United Kingdom.

It's no secret that regular physical activity is key for good health; it can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week for "substantial health benefits."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost half of adults in the United States fail to meet these guidelines. But if you're looking to improve your exercise levels and overall fitness, a new study suggests that a pedometer could offer a long-term solution.

"We knew from a previous study that wearing a pedometer can help make people more active in the short term," says study co-author Prof. Christina Victor, from the Gerontology and Health Services Research Unit at Brunel University London.

"But to get any of the health benefits linked to being more active," she explains, "such as a lowered risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, people need to be more active in the long term."

Physical activity levels increased for years

For the new study, Prof. Victor and colleagues analyzed the data of 1,023 adults aged 45–75 years who were a part of the PACE-UP Trial, which is a randomized, controlled trial to see how a pedometer intervention influences physical activity levels.

At the beginning of a 12-week walking task, each participant was given a pedometer and a diary.

Subjects were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group received advice sessions with a nurse about how to use their pedometer to increase physical activity; one group received such advice through the post; and the remaining group received no advice.

When the researchers assessed the participants' physical activity 3 years later, they found that participants who received exercise advice in person or through the post were still walking an additional 600 steps per day, compared with study baseline.

Furthermore, time spent engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity was increased by 24 minutes each week.

Next, the researchers analyzed the data of 298 adults aged 60–75 years who took part in the PACE-Lift Trial.

Though similar to the PACE-UP Trial, it followed the physical activity of two groups who were given a pedometer and a diary: one group received guidance from a nurse on how to use a pedometer to boost physical activity, and the other group received no guidance.

The team looked at the subjects' physical activity 4 years later, and they found that people who received exercise guidance from a nurse engaged in 400 more steps each day, and they also engaged in 33 more minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every week.

Based on these findings, Prof. Victor and colleagues suggest that using pedometers — which are available to purchase online — could have long-term benefits for health.

"Here we have new evidence that shows short, simple advice about regularly using a pedometer, whether that means getting leaflets through the post or speaking to a nurse, can increase physical activity 3 to 4 years later."

Prof. Christina Victor